It’s almost impressive to put together such a cornucopia of talent, such a veritable cavalcade of funny folks, and produce something this listless and dull. Given the presumed number of recording devices active in their vicinity, the cast of Office Christmas Party should have accidentally produced a gut-busting laugh riot, if simply left to their own devices. They were not left to their own devices. They were left to the devices of six different writers, and those writers’ devices are comedy-destroying suck machines.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck — yes, it took two directors to complete a job that should have required turning a camera on and walking slowly away — seem to have solidly identified the strengths of each cast member. You can tell because of the Swiss precision with which each cast member is denied the opportunity to demonstrate those strengths. Jason Bateman is Josh, a nice guy who helps run a technology company, despite the relentless bumbling of affable screw-up Clay (TJ Miller), whose dead father left him in charge of the branch. Carol (Jennifer Aniston), Clay’s sister and icy interim CEO, declares massive layoffs just before Christmas unless the branch can somehow land a massive account in the next day or so.
The staff thus needs to convince Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to do business with them; so, naturally, they throw a ridiculous party, much to the chagrin of prissy HR headmistress Mary (Kate McKinnon). Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson and Karan Soni are all gifted with impeccably deft comedic timing and subsequently stripped of the ability to exhibit that timing. Olivia Munn is also a person who is in this movie.
The cardinal sin of any “raunchy” comedy is overselling its raunch. The promise of Office Christmas Party was hedonistic debauchery that would make Caligula wish he hadn’t RSVP’d. Aside from an admittedly great scene with Bateman fellating an ice sculpture to an egg-nog climax, the naughty here is mighty tepid. That is, aside from the obligatory flaccid penis. No R-rated comedy can look itself in the mirror without at least one obligatory flaccid penis these days. Actually, the funniest segment has nothing to do with anything edgy, as it just features the brilliant Fortune Feimster describing how she finds the name Carol to be very old timey. That’s as much a credit to Feimster as a condemnation of the movie.
The flagrant, galling stupidity of the film’s tech-based resolution should become a thing of legend. Watching Munn describe the bullshit “algorithm” that magics the internet out of all electrical devices is unintentional comedy genius. It is also but one small example of the overwhelming amount of plot and content shoveled into a tight runtime like so much unspecified meat in a can.
Nobody comes to see something like this to watch characters emotionally evolve or find out about the financial solvency of a small tech company. If Santa could bring us a recording of an unscripted office Christmas party involving the cast of Office Christmas Party, we’d all be so much frickin’ merrier. Get on it, elves.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.